What is your favorite memory from the past year? This is a question we ask every Aha! teammate on their work anniversary. (Or “Aha!-niversary,” as we like to call it.) You would expect people to fondly recall the beautiful locations where we hold our all-company meetings. But the favorite memory I hear the most is: “The time we got together to volunteer.”
We are a fully distributed company with teammates working from locations around the world.
So, how is it that our entirely remote team is able to volunteer together — in person?
Well, twice a year we gather together at a different destination for our weeklong company meeting, which we call “onsites.” We talk about our plans, laugh, and share some great meals together. We are fortunate. And we are even more fortunate that volunteering to serve our temporary community for that week has become part of how we spend time together.
You see, our ultimate goal as a team is not just to make great software and change how companies innovate and build great products — but also to be happy doing it. And serving others is one of the best ways to create joy.
Every day, we do our best to live up to the principles that we champion, such as responsiveness and kindness. For example, when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas last summer, Aha! responded — quickly and with compassion. Within 48 hours, between team members and a company match, we had raised $20,000 to help those impacted by the unprecedented flooding.
Collecting donations from a remote team is simple enough. You ask and people give. In our case, quite generously. But we wanted to be able to do more to support the great cities that host us for onsites. We wanted to activate the team in the community and leave the cities slightly better off than when we arrived. So, last year we built bikes for children in foster homes when we gathered in Arizona.
And for each onsite since then, we have contributed our hands and hearts to deserving organizations.
Now, you could argue that this is not entirely altruistic. There are proven benefits to this kind of volunteerism for both the organization and employees. Deloitte found in a study that giving back as a company leads to more loyal, happy, and engaged teams. Even more interesting, teams who volunteer together are nearly twice as likely to be satisfied with their careers than those who do not.
Giving back is an easy “yes.” But how do you do this with an entirely remote team? Well, coordinating the logistics of more than 75 people volunteering together for an afternoon — in different communities, twice a year — is a bit complicated. But we have found it to be well worth the effort.
Here is how we bring a large team together and volunteer in a meaningful way:
Do the research
Since our onsites are held in a different location each time, we are not always familiar with the area. So, our team spends months researching the community to understand what the most pressing needs are. A lot of this requires some old-fashioned research, but we have also turned to national groups like Together We Rise and The United Way to help point us towards local organizations in need of volunteers.
Visit in person
Of course, we do not rely on web-sleuthing alone — we also visit the organizations beforehand. It is important for us to understand the challenges, the scope of the work, and any sensitivities before we send the entire team in to help out. For example, we can let folks know if they will be doing manual work in the sun (and therefore should wear appropriate clothes and bring sunscreen), or if they will be making dinner in a group home, where they need to be respectful as they are entering people’s personal space.
Spread the love
There was once a time when the entire Aha! team could volunteer at one place. This is no longer the case — we are simply too big now. Having us all descend on one location at the same time would be more disruptive than helpful to the hosts. So, we break into smaller groups and volunteer at a few different places. Most recently, our company volunteered at eight different non-profit organizations in Colorado.
Encourage value alignment
Since we partner with several different organizations, we ask teammates to sign up in advance based on their own interests. Some people may be passionate about animals and want to spend the afternoon hiking with rescue dogs, while others might prefer to help kids after school with their homework or basketball skills. Of course, people do not always get their “first pick” for volunteering. But we have yet to hear anyone complain about where they are placed — people are happy to contribute wherever they are needed.
Make it last
We are optimistic realists. We know that one day of volunteering is just that — one day. It will not necessarily make a lasting impact. This is why we also give a significant donation to each organization where we volunteer. We might only have one afternoon to spend with them, but we hope that the donation can extend the impact we make.
Our ultimate goal as a company is to bring more joy into the world.
What does this look like? It means focusing on the software that we create, as well as proving that you can build a high-growth company that puts all people first — not just our immediate team.
I am proud that our team serves thousands of customers. But I am just as proud of the value we create for each other and the communities we visit. Because the first amplifies the second.
We spend too much time at our jobs to only stare at profit — work should help us become better versions of ourselves. Part of that means providing opportunities to support organizations that provide meaningful care as well.
How does your company support volunteer work?
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